By Brigitte Mars
Edited Briggs Wallis
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) is a member of the Lamiaceae (Mint) Family. The genus and common name is derived from the Latin Ros Marinus, meaning “dew of the sea” as the plant grows profusely near the Mediterranean coast and sea foam sprays upon it. Rosemary also goes by the names Sea Dew, Our Lady’s Rose, Compass Plant, Old Man, and Polar Plant.
Rosemary has long been considered a symbol of friendship and loyalty. There is a legend about when Jesus, Mary and Joseph were fleeing from Herod’s soldiers, they rested in a thick stand of Rosemary and after Mary hanging her cloak on a white flowered Rosemary bush, caused the flowers to turn blue. In weddings, brides would wear a wreath of rosemary and carry it in their bridal bouquets so they would remember their families and also their marriage vows. Rosemary was also used at funerals and religious ceremonies as protection from evil and to remember the dead. Ancient Greek scholars would wear laurels of Rosemary on their heads to help them when taking examinations to improve memory. In 1235, Elizabeth, Queen of Hungary is said to have been cured of paralysis by massaging her joints repeatedly with rosemary that had soaked in wine. “There’s Rosemary, that’s for remembrance: Pray you love, remember” said Ophelia when lamenting the death of Hamlet.
Indeed Rosemary’s antiseptic aroma could help prevent the spread of infection. It also can be burned in sick rooms to refresh and purify the air. A diffuser works great for the essential oil. During the sixteenth century, Europeans carried pouches of rosemary to ward of the plague. The branches were strewn in legal courts to prevent the spread of typhus. Rosemary’s antiseptic aroma repels many kinds of insects placed in books to deter moths. It is one of the most traditional of incenses and sachet ingredients.
Rosemary tonifies the nervous system, improves peripheral circulation, promotes warmth, invigorates the lungs, curbs infection, promotes immunity, and uplifts the spirits. Because it improves digestion, circulation, and memory, it is an excellent herb for the elderly. The above ground portion of Rosemary is used as an anodyne, antibacterial, antidepressant, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory, antimutagenic, antioxidant, antiseptic, antispasmodic, aromatic, astringent, bitter, cardiotonic, carminative, cephalic, cholagogue, choleretic, circulatory stimulant, diaphoretic, digestive, diuretic, emmenagogue, hypertensive, nervine, rejuvenative, rubefacient, stimulant, stomachic, and yang tonic.
Rosemary tea has been used to help Alzheimer’s disease, amenorrhea, anxiety, asthma, high and low blood pressure, bronchitis, cancer prevention, cataracts, colds, debility, depression, dyspepsia, epilepsy, fatigue, flatulence, gallstones, halitosis, headache, jaundice, memory loss, menstrual cramps, delayed menses, migraine, pain, palsy, rheumatism, stress, vertigo, and poor vision.
Topically, rosemary can be used as a rejuvenative skin wash to prevent wrinkles and strengthen the capillaries or as a compress in cases of bruises. Rosemary is an ingredient in Queen of Hungary Water, a popular beauty tonic. Rosemary is included in the bath, footbaths, and in salves for bruises, eczema, sprains, and rheumatism. Sachets of dried Rosemary are placed in one’s pillowcase to stimulate dreams, yet prevent nightmares. It is used as a rejuvenative bath herb, and also to help relieve pain and sore muscles. It is made into a gargle for sore throat, gum ailments, canker sores and to freshen the breath. The tea makes a stimulating eyewash. Rosemary in shampoos, conditioners, and hair oils, helps combat dandruff, graying and hair loss. It is helpful as a potpourri ingredient to repel moths. Rosemary essential oil is a rubifacaient, a substance for topical application that produces redness of the skin by causing dilation of the capillaries and an increase in blood circulation. It is used in used in perfume, toothpaste, insect repellants, massage oil and as a liniment for neuralgia, sciatica and sore muscles. A yellow-green dye can be obtained from the flowers and leaves.
Inhalations of essential oil of Rosemary are used to improve memory, Alzheimer’s disease, calm anxiety, and prevent fainting. I taught my kids to smell oil of rosemary when studying, then the day of the test, apply a few drops to their sleeve, and inhale that when taking the test. Add a few drops of rosemary oil to a freshly washed hairbrush for delightfully aromatic hair.
In the kitchen, Rosemary leaves can be added to salads, dressings, vegetables, soups, breads, biscuits, jellies tofu, eggs, seafood, meat dishes, and wine. The young shoots, leaves, and flowers are all edible raw or cooked. They have a refreshing, pleasant, somewhat bitter-pungent piney flavor. When eaten with food they aid the digestion of fats and starches. The twigs, or cotton balls saturated with the essential oil are scattered in cupboards to repel insects. A study done at Rutgers State University found that Rosemary had preservative qualities more powerful and safer than the common food additives BHA and BHT.
As a flower essence, rosemary encourages users to be less forgetful and more aware, more present in their body, and more conscious. It strengthens the heart and mind and helps users receive strength from their loved ones.
Rosemary is pungent, bitter, warm, and dry. It is considered yang, under the jurisdiction of the Sun and corresponding to the element of Fire. Rosemary contains beta-carotene, vitamin C, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, volatile oil (borneol, camphor, cineole, eucalyptol, linalol, pinene, verbenol), tannins, flavonoids (apigenin, diosmin, heterosides, luteolin), rosmarinic acid, rosmaricine, triterpene (ursolic acid, oleanic acid), and resin.
Rosemary is native to the Mediterranean region but cultivated worldwide. It can grow over three to six feet tall (supposedly in thirty years reaching Jesus’ height). The leaves are about one inch long, dark green, thick, leathery and lanceolate. The two-lipped flowers are small, whitish, blue to purple. This tender perennial grows best in full sun. It prefers well-drained soil and low to moderate amounts of water, though it can tolerate drought. In most temperate climates, bring Rosemary plants indoors for the winter.
Avoid therapeutic doses during pregnancy (though using rosemary moderately to season food is safe). Though rosemary is generally considered so safe that it is a common kitchen herb, but all herbs are meant to be honored and respected with appropriate use. Take caution to use this herb safely in moderate, reasonable doses. But take care not to abuse this herb, because extremely large doses could cause convulsions and death. Have fun, get creative and honor the plant’s medicine by remembering the many rejuvenating, respectful recipes that Rosemary can contribute to your world!
There’s rosemary and rue. These keep Seeming and savor all the winter long.
Grace and remembrance be to you.